Every Election Cycle, The Wind From Birmingham To Chicago Smells Like Ashes
saved! thank silent, merciful God we are saved!
a ghost rises from the parched soil
of a Chicago cemetery.
she drops a piece of paper into a box and suddenly
freedom rings for all brown things that are not
black women saved our asses this election cycle
her son is somehow
next to her & somehow
in Washington D.C. & somehow
at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River,
guiding its currents.
a well-intended hand grips her arm,
a pair of friendly lips kisses her mummified
you have saved us
she is screaming into everyone’s faces.
she is calling for help.
for rescuing us from the cradle robber
she is pointing to a struck pine—
split down its trunk and weeping streams of
skittles, bullets, ink;
streams that sound like whistles
& roll across silt like jilted tremors.
we owe you so much
she snatches tires from rope, unable to bear
seeing anything swing.
she tosses sheets of steel to the earth.
she traps every match, every lighter in a meat
locker and tears the lights apart.
we should have listened to you
she is still screaming, still pointing
we owe you so much
we owe you so much
if we could go back in time and do this whole
election again, we would—
any black boy’s body has risen to the
surface of any river.
his mother falls, exhausted,
into an abandoned grave, the ivy molded to
accommodate the curve of her soaked cheeks.
if we could go back
there is jubilation in the streets.
every soft, brown thing is now named Mammy,
Messiah, or Most High.
we’d listen to you this time
she has stopped screaming.
she is whistling now—soft and serene.
she is cursing every selective, unyielding ear
& daring someone
to say something about the noise.
First published in Rigorous Magazine 2017.
Khalypso is a Sacramento-based activist, actor, and poet. They are fat, black, neurodivergent, queer and badass. Their work can be found in Calamus Journal, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Rigorous Journal, Wusgood Magazine, and Shade Journal, as well as a few others. They are a Leo-Virgo cusp, they want to be your friend, and you can find them on Twitter at KhalypsoThePoet. They are not here for your bullshit.
Of their style, Khalypso says, “I honestly do not know how to describe my style. I’d like to think I’m as vulnerable as Amy Winehouse. I’m honest with my poetry, much more so than in real life. The best thing I can do to describe my style is tell you that my favorite poets are Langston Hughes, Hanif Abdurraqib, Danez Smith, Ntozake Shange, Kaveh Akbar, Aziza Barnes, Julian David Randall, Luther Hughes, torrin a greathouse, George Abraham, Noor Najam, Logan February, Siaara Freeman, and Paige Lewis. I try to write like them, but I mostly just try to write like Amy Winehouse sings—beautifully.”
Bekah and Khalypso connected via social media. After reading “Every Election Cycle, The Wind From Birmingham To Chicago Smells Like Ashes,” we wanted to know more about them. So, here is our interview with Khalypso.
Q~What would you like to share about the backstory to this poem?
A~This poem came from seeing Twitter’s collective reaction to Roy Moore’s defeat and the fact that black women showed up against him the most. We stay doing that. We stay showing up when it’s time to protect the best interests of others. No one does that for us, and I’m fuckin tired. This poem is about the black woman’s mammification and black fatigue and a little bit about politics and a little bit about Emmett Till; how no one but his mama showed up for him. Black bodies are expendable until they’re useful, and, again, I’m tired.
Q~What do you hope to accomplish with this piece?
A~I want to make people who subscribe to mammification and respectability politics feel really bad about it. I also want them to know they can fuck all the way off.
Q~Did the poem come easily to you or was it hard to write?
A~Emotionally, it was very hard to write. But, it came easy. I was, I AM, so angry.
Q~What’s your writing process usually like?
A~I smoke weed and then write whatever comes to mind. Obviously, I don’t only write when I’m high, but lately I’ve been doing that to see what I produce. I’m generally delighted with the results.
Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?
A~With writing, I’d say to be vulnerable and honest at all times. Before craft, or precision, or readership, focus on that. I also, though, kind of feel like I’m too new to the game to offer sound advice, so take what I say with as many grains of salt as you want.
Q~Who are you reading now?
A~Morgan Parker. Hieu MInh Nguyen. Saeed Jones. Luther Hughes.
Q~What are your poetry highs/lows of the last year?
A~I got rejected by a ton of retreats and conferences, which made me feel like a motherless child. My highs were making it into BNV’s semifinals and being published by Glass and Drunk in a Midnight Choir—two dream publications.
Q~Is there any online resource you would like to recommend?
A~Allpoetry.com is a nice, chill place to get feedback, but it’s mostly old white people on the site, which might turn some folx off.
Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?
A~I have a ton of publications so I’ll include a few: Shade, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Glass, Calamus, WusGood, Black Napkin, and yell/shout/scream. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.
Q~Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
A~I’m raising money to attend a couple retreats this summer. I do a lot of work in the spaces of activism and writing and most of it goes unpaid. If anyone is interested in helping me go to these retreats so I can improve my writing and hopefully put out a book, I ask that they consider donating to my Paypal, my Venmo: @khalcashbby, or my Square Cash: $khalcashbby. Every little bit of money helps in a big way, and everyone who donates will go in the acknowledgements page of my first full-length collection.